By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
At the university later in the day, no students would let us put their faces on camera. As one young woman put it, "We don't want our faces shown because we don't want the terrorists to see, and we don't want the government to see. We are afraid of everyone equally, all the time." All around her, students bustled by and families shopped at European-looking stores across the street. Nearby, a street vendor had a cage of small green parrots. I wondered if perhaps this contrast between cheerful bustle and inward fear is what psychotics feel.
Lunches were expensive, because we stopped at secure restaurants, heavily guarded establishments for the wealthy. Moustafa, Djamal and Saoud, our other interpreter, took us one day to a country club in a suburb. "I live in this neighborhood," Saoud told us. The golf course at the country club had been neglected. "There are no more foreigners," Saoud explained, "and Algerians don't play golf."
At lunch, outside on the terrace, my colleague said, "My father has a lot of guns, but he doesn't use them." "I only have one gun," Moustafa replied, "but I use it a lot." He was drinking a Heineken and feeling expansive. "It is a beautiful country," he observed in French. "I will die for it if I have to."
A couple of days later, Saoud mentioned that the neighborhood of the golf course, her neighborhood, a had also been the scene of a massacre. Fifty people had been killed one night the week before. "I could hear the women scream as their throats were slit," she recalled. "Since then, we never all sleep, but take turns sleeping. We have organized in groups around the people who have shotguns."
Moustafa and Djamal were eventually joined by a third partner, Mohammed, who is even thinner, with even more of a pencil line to his mustache. Before they became VIP bodyguards, the three were ordinary secret policemen. One evening, I asked them if they had ever captured any terrorists, as they refer to the rebels, and if so, what they were like.
"They were like robots," Moustafa said. Djamal nodded. "Even the leaders are like robots. That is why we know they are controlled from somewhere else."
Algeria is no Bosnia. Everyone is both Algerian and Muslim. Yet every Algerian I've met seems to think of the terrorists as completely other - so completely other that you would think they are a metaphor, or a figment, like the black helicopters in the fantasies of the American militia movement. You would think so, that is, but for the 75,000 dead and, now, the nightly massacres.
The motto of the GIA, sometimes spelled out in blood at massacre sites, is "Blood Blood. Destruction Destruction." Who taught the GIA to be so cruel?
The motto of the French Foreign Legion, the foreign mercenary army formed principally to fight North Africans, was "Live by chance. Love by choice. Kill by profession."
One evening, three young Algerian women were swimming in the pool at our hotel. They agreed to talk to us, pulling jeans on over their bathing suits.
At first it seemed that the interview was going to be about the bravery of wearing skimpy clothing in a city where women have been killed for not wearing headscarves. "It's true," said Samia, who was wearing a Lakers cap, "that we are a little bit targets. But dressing like this is the only fight we can make."
"When you want to destroy a country, a society," added Nabila, in a Bulls cap, "who do you attack? The women. But having said that, let us now talk about the government. If there weren't terrorism to think about, what would people be doing? Maybe they would be making demonstrations against the government, because of how high prices are and other things. But this way, the government can keep pressure on the people."
"That's why we say," added Samia, echoing the predominant sentiment in Algeria, "that the terrorists are the sons of the government."
Apparently, the terrorism is becoming less and less ideological. In the late '80s and early '90s, political Islam looked to the Algerians, as to others in the Muslim world, like an attractive alternative to living under a corrupt, dictatorial regime. As the slogans on the walls of Cairo and Tunis and Hebron and Algiers said: "Islam is the solution." In Algeria, with three-quarters of the population under 25 and 70 percent unemployment among workers under age 30, the need for solutions was urgent. In 1991, under pressure, the military government agreed to organize elections. At the end of 1991, when it became clear that the Islamic Salvation Front was going to win the vote, the government canceled the election. The violence began in 1992.
Since then, the Islamic rebels have lost some of their appeal. As the popular description has it, the ranks of the most radical Islamic guerrilla groups are now made up of "fanatics, desperate youths and criminals."
Samia, one of the young women we met by the pool, invited us to spend Friday afternoon, the equivalent of our Sunday afternoon, at the large flat she shares with her two sisters and her retired parents. Our bodyguards were upset. "She should come here to the hotel to pick you up. It isn't safe to just go over there."